Ash by James Herbert

1 October, 2012

Many years ago I read James Herbert’s Haunted and later watched the film. I don’t remember much of the book but I did think the film was pretty scary. Well, horror films never fail to terrify me. So when I was offered the chance to review Ash, the latest novel by James Herbert, I was intrigued to see what had become of David Ash, the parapsychologist whom I first met in Haunted. BBC is about to show a dramatisation of Herbert’s The Secret of Crickley Hall and the nights are drawing closer. I was in the mind for something spookay!

In David Ash’s third case (the second is The Ghosts of Sleath which I haven’t read), we find him battered but almost recovered from his previous two encounters with the paranormal. A powerful, secretive organisation called the Inner Sanctum has requested his expertise in uncovering some sinister events that have taken place in a hidden castle in the middle of the Highlands, a place of refuge for the world’s wealthiest recluses. Or so they claim. With some misgivings regarding the secrecy surrounding Comraich Castle, Ash is soon on his way to the secluded castle where he comes face to face with some of history’s most notorious faces whom the world believes dead. With so much evil concentrated in one place, it is only a matter of time before a malevolent presence finds a conduit through which it can materialise and Ash must somehow convince the owners to evacuate the place in order to save lives.

To complicate matters, he has fallen for the resident psychologist Dr. Delphine Wyatt and so he must not only protect himself but other innocent people from the evil that is growing beneath the castle.

The premise sounded extremely intriguing and my memories of Haunted were pleasant enough for me to anticipate reading this novel. Unfortunately there were too many things that irked me for this to be an enjoyable experience. The writing style was fine but occasionally veered between being condescending to pedantic. There was too much information that sometimes I felt as though I was consulting wikipedia. I’m sure half of the explanations could have been cut without hindering the story in any way. The writing style was somewhat crude in places which I thought was unnecessary although I guess it scores on the shock factor. But I always assumed David Ash would be a conflicted, agonised man, but one with style. There was a lot of brand name dropping which annoyed me. Do I really need to know that Ash’s mobile was a Samsung? I don’t think so. And lots and lots of names of medical drugs and product descriptions which could have been edited out.

Herbert’s characterisation also leaves a lot to be desired. Apart from the stereotypes you would expect to find in mainstream horror, they often didn’t have continuity or acted out of character. Take Ash. For someone so jaded, he was pretty naïve at times. And he hovered over Delphine so protectively as though she was some kind of innocent lamb. Which didn’t make much sense since she had been working for the Inner Sanctum for 3 years administering sedatives to patients and conducting experiments which weren’t exactly legal. For a grown woman with a career, Delphine was a little too ‘wan’ and fragile.

There was also a bewildering number of urban legends from the Nazis to Princess Diana which were really interesting and I do think Herbert makes you ponder the consequences of evil and its many facets although with a rather simplistic view of redemption. Ultimately, Herbert tries to put too much into the story without providing a satisfactory explanation to the hauntings that are so central to the tale.

I’m sure this would make a great horror film and a perfectly good holiday read but it’s not one to read too closely. I’m probably being harsh but I think my exasperation stems from my expectations which were rather high. Although there were certain things that were chilling and lots of blood and gore, it didn’t really scare the pants off me (but even The Woman in Black, everyone’s favourite ghost story, didn’t do the trick). Maybe books just don’t scare me? Do also check out the reviews at Gaskella and SFX.

Have you read any books by James Herbert? And what’s your scariest read? Spill!

A review copy of Ash was kindly provided by the publisher.

I read this as part of R.I.P. VII.

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10 Responses to “Ash by James Herbert”

  1. deslily Says:

    the only Herbert I’ve read is the Secret of Crickley Hall which was quite good! but my all time favorite reads for this time of year are: The Thirteenth Tale and Drood (I am rereading Drood as we speak)

  2. sakura Says:

    I loved The Thirteenth Tale with it’s luscious gothicness and I’ve been meaning to read Drood forever as I’m a huge fan of Dan Simmons’ Hyperion books. Thank you for reminding me! I’m really looking forward to seeing The Secret of Crickley Hall on telly and am glad you enjoyed the book:)


  3. I’ve yet to read it – my friend guest reviewed it for me on the blog. I am still intrigued to read it for myself, as I haven’t read an adult mass market horror novel for some years, and I too am hard to scare (viz book of Woman in Black – didn’t do it for me either). Films/TV are more likely to scare me – it’s the immediacy of the shock, rather than the slow build-up you normally get reading I think…

    • sakura Says:

      Of course you have to read it Annabel – would love to see what you think! It had some really interesting ideas. But yes, I definitely get more scared watching spooky films – I think the soundtrack has a lot to do with it!

  4. Chinoiseries Says:

    I’ve been considering this book, because it’s supposedly possible to read Ash without having read the previous books in the David Ash series. But now I’m not so sure. I mean, information (WIkipedia-esque) overload? No thank you. Naivety in a jaded inspector? Not very credible. I may have to give this book a miss…

    Just curious though, what book DID scare you? 🙂

    • sakura Says:

      Believe it or not, the only book that scared me was the novelisation of Alien/Aliens. But my parents were away and I was reading the book in the middle of the night with my sister fast asleep… I haven’t really read much straight horror although I do love my gothic novels (ghosts, vampires, all that stuff). But I’m looking for something spooky. Maybe I should give Stephen King a try?

      • Chinoiseries Says:

        Ha! The circumstances probably helped a lot 🙂 Yes, Stephen King should be able to scare you (and if his books don’t, then I pronounce you scary book-proof!)

  5. lynnsbooks Says:

    Aww, what a pity. I was reading your review and thinking this sounds really good and then it all went pear shaped. Oh Well, it’s a shame you didn’t really enjoy it but thanks for the honest review.
    Lynn 😀

  6. Gobbo Says:

    I enjoyed reading your review of Ash and agree with you that this book has many failings. The characters (especially Delphine. Has Herbert never met any women of professional standing, confident, assertive, decisive.) are at the most unassuming, To besmirch Diana was tasteless and unnecessary and to presume that he was privy to her final thoughts as her life ebbed away was unacceptable. The book stumbles along from each unbelievable plot to the ending which was clearly evident from a little way into the book. The narrative was long winded and over described, and where was the Horror? The suspense? When I read horror I want to be scared, or at least given food for thought. Having been a fan of horror since my early teens, I have read all of Herberts (and Kings, Koontz, etc.) previous works. I was very disappointed that he deigned to give us a history lesson on the most infamous characters of recent history. He must have read Kings ‘11.22.63.’ Another history lesson, this time on the assassination of John Kennedy. Another book with a poor plot and a droning narrative. I feel these writers have become complacent and because of past successes have the ability to sell any works no matter how bad they are. It’s a shame you can’t return books as not living up to your expectations. As for this book ever becoming a film, even the horror channel would have reservations, and their criteria is pretty low. It’s time we stopped pandering to these ‘Gods of Horror’ and made them work a bit harder for our money. As a foot note: I recently came across a new writer, Levy A. Walsh. This guy is good, He’s shown the ability to write in more than one genre and has the ability to tell a story that grips you. His recent book Primordial Soup, a horror, had me captivated, a real page turner. My wife would only read it in daylight hours. I now look at Big Black birds with suspicion. ‘Food for thought’ His second book ‛Drax’ had me laughing all the way through and for days afterwards.
    http://levy-walsh.webeden.co.uk/


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